By Robert Gane – Canchones Alpacas
In discussions with alpaca breeders the world over it is often that lifestyle is quoted as the reason they first purchased alpacas. For most it is an idyllic choice. However for everyone with alpacas there comes a point when decisions need to be made:
- How to move on the alpacas we no longer necessary in their breeding programs?
- How to finance those matings or new animals that we would like to buy?
- How to realise a return on the investment already made?
It is at this point that the realisation occurs that like it or not a business is being run.
In any business, it is essential that clients are attracted and that sales are made. In difficult times like today, this may seem all too hard. In reality, it has always required focus and hard work. Even in the good times, alpaca breeders have to compete not only with each other but with other livestock and farming options. There is also a myriad of other non farming investment opportunities available.
It is therefore necessary to develop a clear understanding of what your business has to offer and how to communicate and attract the clients that you want. We need to ensure not only our individual success but that our clients are also successful. This will maintain the business over the long term and develop repeat sales into the future.
Breeders are in the alpaca industry for a variety of reasons: lifestyle, income generation, advancing the breed are but a few. By focusing your alpaca venture and developing both marketing and sales strategies, this will enable you to have the greatest options in achieving your alpaca goals.
It’s with this as a background that Robert Gane of Canchones Alpacas has been running workshops in Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA and the United Kingdom on marketing and sales strategies.
So, how do we start. Initially it is essential that you have a clear understanding of both where you are now and also of what type of business you want to have. To take stock of your current position, you need to think about and answer the following questions:
What is the description of your current herd?
- What type. Suri, Huacaya or both?
- What colour(s)?
- How many females?
- How many stud sires?
Have you made any sales in the last 12 months and if so what have you sold?
- Pregnant females?
- Stud sires?
- Shares in stud sires?
- Stud services?
- Gelded males?
If you have been selling your animals to whom have you been selling?
- New breeders establishing a herd
- Existing breeders sourcing genetics
- Pet buyers
- People wanting a fleece herd but not interested in breeding
- New owners looking for high quality animals where price was not the focus?
- Existing owners wanting to upgrade their animals or to own a stud sire?
What do you do currently to promote your animals?
There is a large range of activities available to the alpaca breeder to promote their alpaca farm and stock to potential clients. Listed below are just a few:
- Specialist alpaca magazines
- General smallholder magazines
- Main stream agricultural publications or local press
- Internet via personal alpaca farm website
- Local agricultural shows and events,
- Specialist alpaca shows and events
- Promotional email campaigns
- Hosting talks and informational sessions
- Hosting introductory alpaca days.
Any occasion that enable breeders to talk to and interact and build rapport with interested parties will prove valuable. These options are really only limited to your imagination and all are worth at least trying once.
Describing your alpaca farm
The single biggest challenge for most breeders is to elucidate a description that describes the business that they want. Ideally it should be a succinct phrase that will be used on an ongoing basis as the catch phrase for the business. This is the description that we want to spring into the minds of the person we are talking to once we introduce ourselves and what alpaca farm we are from.
If you are not able to put your business into simple terms, how can you expect to communicate your alpaca farmalpaca farm effectively in a crowded market and how can you expect others to identify and find you.
Now that a clearer understanding of the current state of your alpaca business has been developed, it is necessary to develop a marketing plan to promote the business.
Developing and implementing the Marketing Plan
The first step in any marketing plan is to identify the breeding goals for your herd and a direction for your business. It is essential to have clear breeding goals and to be able to communicate these as these goals will ultimately produce the “product” that will be on offer. This plan should reflect your future breeding goals.
Your marketing is unlikely to be successful unless your breeding goals and marketing are aligned.
The objective of marketing is to create the environment into which you wish to sell. The better this environment, the greater the sales potential and the easier it is to sell.
On developing the Marketing Plan it is essential to realise that it is not a static document. It is vitally important to review it on an ongoing basis. You should review marketing objectives and update them every two to three years (at a minimum) so that your business can take action rather than react to a changing situation. This will result in you having greater control.
Also while you may be tempted to do everything, the narrower the focus of your business, the more effective and easier it will be to market. With this in mind, breeders are therefore encouraged to identify and develop a niche in which they can operate. Some examples are as follows:
- Elite quality white huacayas
- Coloured suris
- Black Huacaya or Suri
- The pet or companion market.
- The fleece herd market
No matter what area you choose to operate in, it is necessary to identify your target clients and markets. The size and potential of these markets will be dependant on the current size of the niche and your ability to grow the niche. Some examples are:
- New entrants to the alpaca industry
- Existing breeders looking to build up their herd numbers
- Breeders wishing to improve the quality of their animals
- Clients wanting stud sire services
- Breeders seeking particular genetic traits
- Breeders wanting to buy show winning animals
- International alpaca markets
- Existing clients wanting an additional animal or mating
Having identified the target market, the question is how to reach it. Each market segment needs to be approached differently.
New breeders can be reached through shows, smallholder magazines and trade displays. At shows, e-mail addresses should be collected from genuinely interested parties and then contact maintained in a friendly rather than pushy way. Adverts in specialised alpaca magazines are more likely to reach those looking for stud sires, genetics or to build up their herds. Websites are only useful if they are up to date, informative and functional. E-mails can be sent out encouraging people to visit your web site.
Farm open days can be very effective and can be advertised at shows and displays and those showing interest can be invited to attend. Open farm days are more about selling then marketing.
Sponsorship is an excellent method of promotion, enabling the breeder to be photographed with an elite animal and their name then associated with excellence.
A very important part of marketing is brand image with the image representing what the breeder wants to do. It is essential that the colour, font, design and logo are consistent across the brand, from the brochure and business card to adverts and clothing worn at events. This is important to increase brand recognition and recall.
A by-line (or catch phrase) describing the business, such as ‘excellence and luxury’, “fine black alpaca” is helpful to make the image memorable. Your branding should reflect the specific characteristics of your business in order to attract those who are most likely to become customers. This self selection or self filtering has an enormous ability to increase the effectiveness of your interactions. There is no point attracting potential clients interested in breeding white huacayas if you are breeding grey suri.
Advertisements can be used to strengthen the branding rather than simply trying to sell specific animals or products. It is recommended you study different advertisements to identify why some work and others don’t. For advertisements to be successful, the message must be consistent and the same style retained to develop and re-inforce product recognition. The advert also has to reflect what is being sold to again enable self selection by potential clients. Showing an advert to an independent person can be useful as they can tell you what message is coming across and you can decide if this is the message you want to deliver.
Branding begins with the herd or alpaca farm name. Herd names that are easy to say, spell and find on a list are beneficial. Using location names as a herd name can be detrimental if you move to another location in the future. Herd names also need to be unique and different enough from other names to build their own identity.
Alpacas are often owned in partnership (by spouses) and developing a marketing plan can ensure that both parties agree on the direction of their alpaca business. The planning process can assist in negotiating this agreement.
The development of a sales strategy based on your new marketing plane will be covered in another article.